The introduction of low-fat and non-fat products emerging in supermarkets meant more and more people avoided fats out of their diets completely. However, this is one of many nutrition lies the public has been told!
Do you villainise fats? You are not alone.
Many people believe cutting out fats, regardless of them being good, help us get the weight-loss outcome we want to achieve.
Our bodies need fat, specifically healthy fats. Fats are an important part of the diet, but they do not all have the same effects on health. Good fats can lower cholesterol levels, boost brain function and make you feel full, whereas unhealthy fats can contribute to chronic disease and weight gain.
Why our body needs fat
Fats can be broken down into two; saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fat molecules are fatty acids without the double bonds; foods include ingredients like butter, coconut oil and dairy products. Trans fat, a saturated fat, is added to enhance flavour and extend shelf life. Consequently, it is commonly used in cakes, pastries and vegetable oil. Consuming large amounts of saturated fat can increase the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Conversely, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond within the chain – these can be further categorised as either monosaturated or polyunsaturated fat based on the number of bonds. Unsaturated fats can include foods like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish. Evidence shows unsaturated fatty acids help reduce inflammation, promote weight loss and lower the risk of heart disease.
What are fatty acids?
Fatty acids provide energy, absorb vitamins and minerals, and produce hormones. There are two types of fatty acids that your body is unable to make; linolenic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic (omega-3). The body converts alpha-linolenic acid to its active forms of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). You can find these fatty acids in food sources like salmon, sardines, nuts and seeds and certain vegetables like Brussel Sprouts.
Linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are essential fatty acids. We must consume them as our bodies cannot create them.
Your fat intake should mostly be made up of unsaturated fats. Studies have concluded that replacing just 5% of unsaturated fat calories with an equal amount of unsaturated fat resulted in a 25% reduced risk of heart disease.
What are healthy fats?
Healthy fats can help absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), supply energy, provide insulation to help regulate body temperature, and keep skin and hair looking healthy. Additionally, consuming good fats can contribute to weight loss! Fat is digested slower than carbohydrates and protein to promote satiety and helps bump up the flavour of foods. Studies have found that fat can suppress food intake later in the day, which could potentially enhance weight loss.
Some fats also contain anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation and reduce symptoms of autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. Monounsaturated fatty acids help increase good cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Diverse amounts of good fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats) can enhance brain function by lowering inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain.
What are the benefits of good fats?
Below are a list of good fats and some of their benefits:
- Avocados – rich in monounsaturated fats, which raises levels of good cholesterol while lowering the bad.
- Ghee – also known as clarified butter, contains fat-soluble vitamins A and E. Stored in the gastrointestinal tract, Ghee maintains your metabolism.
- Coconut Oil – is easy to digest, improves brain function, and is anti-inflammatory.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – many studies state olive oil is beneficial for heart health and reduces cholesterol levels.
- Fish – fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are essential fatty acids because the body cannot produce them on its own.
- Nuts and Seeds – lower bad cholesterol to keep your heart healthy. Also rich in omega-3s, for enhancing brain health.
- Eggs – an all-rounder good fat that does not raise bad cholesterol and improves heart health. Eggs can reduce your risk of many conditions, including excess body fat, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- Dark Chocolate – The flavanols improve heart health by reducing blood pressure. Most importantly, I recommend choosing chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao – this minimizes the amount of sugar and means a higher antioxidant boost.
The way forward
A well-balanced diet should include a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with a small number of saturated fats, from healthy sources, like ghee. Good fats reduce your risk of chronic diseases. They protect your heart health, shield the brain, and reduce inflammation. In short, good fats are essential for optimum health and well-being.
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